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A confirmed case of measles aboard a Church of Scientology cruise ship has resulted in a quarantine at the port of St. Lucia in the Caribbean.
The 300 passengers and crewmembers aboard were ordered to remain inside the ship after a female crew member was found on Monday to have contracted the disease.
“We thought it prudent that we quarantine the ship,” Dr. Merlene Fredericks-James, the island nation’s chief medical officer, said in a statement posted on Wednesday to YouTube.
“We have been listening to the alerts from the Pan American Health Organization. There are outbreaks of measles [in the United States] largely because persons have not taken the vaccine,” Fredericks-James said.
The outbreak comes amid an alarming number of measles diagnoses in the U.S., with 704 cases already reported this year in 22 states — the most in 25 years.
It’s an astonishing uptick for a disease that was declared eradicated in the U.S. by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2000.
The numbers around the globe are even more distressing: The World Health Organization has counted 112,000 measles cases in the first quarter of 2019 — an increase of 300 percent compared with one year prior.
The flare-ups are attributed to the anti-vaccination movement, which has proliferated online and falsely claims that the measles vaccine causes autism.
Scientology has never made any public pronouncements discouraging members from vaccinations, but the organization’s aggressive opposition to other forms of Western medicine, specifically psychiatry, is well-documented.
But as The Hollywood Reporter noted in 2016, a number of high-profile Scientologists, including Juliette Lewis, Jenna Elfman and Kirstie Alley, have expressed opposition to immunization and the organization hosted an event in June 2015 where Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and biochemist Brian Hooker, Ph.D., two of the biggest anti-vaccine evangelists, spoke.
The disease manifests itself as a spotted body rash accompanied by high fever. It can be deadly, particularly for children under the age of 5. In 1980, measles-related deaths worldwide numbered 2.6 million. By 2014, that number had dropped to 73,000.
NBC News confirmed with St. Lucia Coast Guard officials that the vessel in question was Freewinds, a 440-foot ship owned and operated by the Church of Scientology.
While no one can disembark from the ship in St. Lucia, there is nothing preventing it from leaving the port and heading back to its home port of Curacao.
According to Scientology’s official website, the ship is the home of the Flag Ship Service Organization (FSSO), a “religious retreat ministering the most advanced level of spiritual counseling in the Scientology religion.”
The ship was purchased in 1986 when it was called Boheme and rechristened Freewinds in 1988, intended as a place for Scientologists to achieve the highest levels of auditing and access Operating Level Eight, the most enlightened state of Scientology.
It drew unwelcome attention when video leaked of a surprise 42nd birthday party held in 2004 on board the ship for Tom Cruise, the church’s most famous adherent.
In the video, Cruise is serenaded by singer Stacy Francis with “Old Time Rock and Roll,” the tune made famous by his movie Risky Business, while a montage of clips was projected behind her. Scientology leader David Miscavige is seen cheering them on.
But two former Scientologists later came forward to say they were held against their will in the depths of the ship and were forced to do hard labor as Cruise and company celebrated above.
“I was put in this small room by myself with a camera monitoring my movements,” one of those women, Valeska Guider, said in 2010. “A security guard escorted me anywhere I went, I had to eat in the engine room and was not allowed to eat in the control room because it was air conditioned.”
At the time, Scientology said both women were lying. The church did not respond to a request for comment on this article.
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